On July 14th this year, something crazy will be happening. Every lunatic in London will be taking to the streets in Parliament Square to scream and shout Mad Pride and show the world we will not be silenced on the margins anymore. We’re here, we’re insane, and we’re ready to burn down the system!
This movement is not new – for decades, mad comrades have been fighting against the oppressive institutions that sedate us, electrocute us and lock us up. Whilst many may assume this struggle has been centred in north amerika, here in britain there is a long history of resistance to psychiatry, with lunatic revolution hidden in pockets all across the island – a history that deserves to be brought out of the shadows.
One particularly notable part of this history is Mad Pride, the annual celebration of insanity, where mad people, lunatics and people targeted by psychiatric violence take to the streets. It is a statement of resistance, a refusal to be silenced despite their best efforts to lock us up and hide us away in prisons and psych wards. We will never accept the pathologising, dehumanising psychiatric depiction of us. Society may call us mad, crazy, lunatics, and to that, we say: yes, and what? Mad Pride!
Mad Pride first sprung about in Toronto during 1993, known at the time as Psychiatric Survivors’ Pride Day. The idea was first brought to life by Lilith Finkler, a Libyan Jewish queer psych survivor who provided legal advice and support for psychiatric survivors, undocumented people and homeless people at Parkdale Community Legal Services. It was co-ordinated and organised by the sizeable psych survivor community in Parkdale, taking inspiration from the mobilizing effect of ‘pride’ messaging for Black, disabled and queer liberation movements. 48% of Toronto’s homeless community at the time were also psych survivors, proving how interconnected our struggles are, and the need to bring the oppression mad people face out of the shadows.
‘As many marginalised peoples have stated over the years in reference to their own political struggles, the liberation of psychiatric survivors must be the work of psychiatric survivors ourselves.’
It was difficult to reach many psych survivors, an inevitable consequence of being isolated and marginalised by society. To tackle this, our Toronto comrades orchestrated a huge outreach operation, leafleting boarding homes, malls, subway stations and speaking to people in the waiting rooms of outpatient centres. They even programmed on the local community radio station. On the day, 200 people turned up, with food, clothes swaps, workshops, skill shares, videos and an information fair. From there, Mad Pride spread across the world, including here in britain.
The history of Mad Pride in britain was born out of a different campaign, Reclaim Bedlam, an opposition to the Bethlem Hospital’s ‘anniversary celebrations’. Organised by Pete Shaughnessy, a mad, London-Irish bus driver, Reclaim Bedlam reasserted the true history of the Bethlem, one that never warranted ‘celebrations’… what is there to praise about an asylum that charged admission for people to come and stare at patients like zoo animals? Reclaim Bedlam instead organised a rave/sit-in outside the old Bethlem site to protest, with the aim of the campaign being to ‘take the user movement out of the ghetto of smoky hospital rooms and into the mainstream.’ During this time, the Chief Executive of the Bethlem was supposed to get an MBE at a service at St Paul’s Cathedral – thanks to mad people protesting, stopping traffic and using a boat to force tower bridge open, the Chief Executive didn’t make it in time to get his MBE. The fight for mad liberation is a fight against ‘british empire’ and the decorations of imperialism!
After this, Reclaim Bedlam stuck around, fighting against the proposed Community Treatment Orders during the 1990s. CTOs, or psychiatric parole/ASBOs, which do now exist, are a way to restrict the freedom of disabled people, a threat hanging over the head of patients who can be called back to a psych ward at any point if we do not adhere to the strictest regulations of psychiatric parole – 1kg of lost weight, not taking medication, and we could be locked up again. Whilst many mental health charities did oppose such horrific legislation, one charity, SANE, were a strong advocate for CTOs. In response to this, Reclaim Bedlam organised a demo of 200 people to oppose SANE and CTOs, with whistles, drums, a 7-foot long syringe, tridents (‘because we’re devils‘) banners and flyers. In the midst of this, SANE’s CEO came out to scream at protestors (who are the hysterical ones now…?) – they eventually dropped their support. Direct action gets the goods!
After successfully waging resistance to the psychiatric institution, the founder of Reclaim Bedlam, Pete Shaughnessy, alongside Mark Roberts, Simon Barnett and Robert Dellar, set up Mad Pride britain, which had its first gig in 1999, a festival focused on music, concert, perfomance and madness. These Mad Pride gigs carred on into the early 2010s, and in 2008, the Mad Hatters of Bath hosted their own Mad Pride Bath, with other Mad Prides being coordinated across the country. Out of Mad Pride britain came the Mental Health Resistance Network, formed in 2011. During this year, Mad Pride britain also organised a demo against welfare cuts, which led to the formation of a new group, Disabled People Against Cuts, who are still active in different regions.
Reclaim Bedlam and Mad Pride are not the only radical, mad traditions here in britain. During the 70s, the Mental Patients’ Union was formed to advocate for the right of mental patients and for the abolition of forced treatment, among other things. Their first ever meeting was attended by over 150 people, and led to a group being formed with 20 full members who set up office in a London squat. Some of the most active MPUs were in Hackney and Manchester, with a halfway house that ran for 3 years to support people going through crisis, as well as a support group for people who had experienced abuse at the hands of psychotherapists and pamphlets discussing the side-effects of psych medication that doctors would likely not be transparent about with patients.
We do not want this beautiful history of resistance to stay as just history, moments of the past we glance back at with longing – at the Campaign for Psychiatric Abolition, we see it as our duty to ourselves, our elder comrades and our lost loved ones, to carry on this struggle so that one day, younger generations will never be able to concieve of the violent force of psychiatry. We deserve to dance and be crazy in the streets without fear of a section 136 or strangers calling the cops. That’s why we’re bringing back Mad Pride, to celebrate our insanity and show the system that we refuse to keep accepting the deaths of our friends and loved ones at the hands of policing, prisons and psychiatry. If you want to be part of lunatic history and resistance, come along on July 14th, 5pm at Parliament Square… be there or be sane!